Long-awaited: After difficult journey, adoption brings joy
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Laura and Kevin Strabley did not choose their daughter’s name. It was given to her before they even knew that the blue-eyed baby had come into the world. They did not choose the circumstances of her birth, that she would be born to a drug-addicted mother the day before her father died from an overdose. That, too, was what they were given.
But they did choose Mia, whose name means “wished for child.” It is a perfect name for such a long-awaited one.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Strableys made the 600-mile trip from Greenville to Ohio to legally adopt Mia, whose middle name is Faith. But the road to becoming a family was a much longer one.
“For me, this was the greatest gift God had given me being placed in my lap,” Laura said. ”(Mia is) the answer to so many prayers, years worth of prayers.”
Laura, who became executive director of the Carolina Pregnancy Center two years ago, has spent more than two decades ministering to women struggling with an unplanned pregnancy. For almost as long, Laura had to deal with her own family planning crisis. While she longed for a child, motherhood eluded her.
“When I first began working at a pregnancy center, I had no idea that I was going to go on a journey where I would lose children and where I would struggle with a dream to become a mother,” she said. “Over a period of 10 years, I had really experienced the devastation of losing children of desiring to be a mother, to experience the joy of family.”
During her first marriage, Laura suffered several miscarriages. The couple was awaiting a child placement from China when their marriage ended, causing the adoption process to come to a halt.
“She had the nursery all ready to go,” friend Pam McKee said. “She already loved this child that wasn’t even in her home yet.”
Before he and Laura ever met, Kevin was dealing with a different kind of parenting predicament. His first marriage also had ended, and the divorce had put a strain on his relationship with his son, Michael, who was in second grade at the time.
Kevin, who had been the primary caregiver during Michael’s early childhood, found himself shut out from his son’s life. While Kevin tried to remain involved, Michael grew more distant in his teen years.
At 16, Michael began experimenting with drugs and dropped out of school. The next time Kevin heard from his son, Michael was in jail.
“By this time, Laura and I were married. We talked about how we could do something to help him out,” Kevin said. “We got him out of jail, and he came and lived with us.”
Kevin and Laura made arrangements for Michael to go into a rehabilitation center. But he refused, opting to move out of his father’s house instead.
“That was a very heartbreaking thing for Kevin to go through as a father,” Laura said. ”(Michael) had kind of gone his own direction away from Kevin, but Kevin never stopped trying to pursue a relationship with him.”
After the Strableys moved to North Carolina four years ago, Kevin seldom heard from his son. Michael called in the spring of 2016 to tell his father that his girlfriend was pregnant but said he was not sure that the baby was his.
In October, Kevin got a call from his ex-wife, telling him that their son had died from a drug overdose. He was 26.
It was not until they arrived in Ohio for Michael’s funeral that Kevin and Laura learned that Michael’s girlfriend had given birth. Due to her mother’s drug use, Mia had been taken into custody by the Department of Social Services.
After Michael’s funeral, Laura’s friend, Pam, took her aside to talk about Mia. Pam, who had been praying for the Strableys during the service, told Laura that in the midst of their grief over Michael, she believed God would have the couple to embrace Mia as their own.
“I was hesitating telling her,” Pam said, explaining that the day their son’s funeral seemed to be an inappropriate time to talk about adoption. “Also, I was fearful of getting hopes up that could be shattered.”
Pam and Laura had been friends through Laura’s miscarriages and failed adoption. Though she did not want to risk having Laura hurt again, Pam persisted.
Within hours of Michael’s funeral, Laura picked up the phone to call the Department of Social Services to say there was a chance that the child taken into custody was her husband’s granddaughter and the Strableys were willing to raise her.
At just two days old, Mia had left the hospital to go home with Regina and Raphael Yutzy. The couple, who had served as foster parents for four years, had already adopted three brothers who are now ages 7, 8 and 9. But when they got the call about Mia, they believed there was room for one more.
The couple and all three sons loved the baby from the start. When the Yutzys were told that Mia would likely be placed for adoption, they hoped they would be the ones to raise her.
“As soon as a baby or any child comes into our home, they’re our child,” Regina said. “It doesn’t matter how long we have them, how long they’re with us, as soon as we have them they become our children.”
Within the first week of having Mia, the Yutzys were told that a man who could prove to be the child’s paternal grandfather was seeking custody.
“I looked at it like now I’ve got a chance to be a father again and step in for Mike, do something for my son that’s not here,” Kevin said. “I can step in and take his place.”
Stark County Ohio child protective social worker Sheri Bash had seen grandparents come forward to care for grandchildren when the parents were unable to do so. But what she faced in this case was something she had never encountered in 20 years as a social worker. In the weeks after Michael’s death, there was a court order to determine whether or not he was Mia’s father.
“They (the Strableys) were taking a risk,” Bash said. “Them coming to our agency, from the beginning, was going to be a permanently life-altering decision for them.”
On Dec. 23, 2016, the day Mia turned 2 months old, the Strableys traveled from North Carolina to Ohio to see her for the first time. It was a brief visit at the Department of Social Services, supervised by a social worker, but it told the Strableys everything they needed to know.
“I don’t think we ever questioned wanting her, not even before we met her,” Laura said. “When we got to hold her for the first time it felt right; it felt really right. When she looked into Kevin’s eyes, it was like she knew him. I don’t know any other way to explain it. It was real, and it was powerful.”
Laura asked the social worker if she could meet Mia’s foster mother. She had brought along a diaper bag and some other gifts for Mia. As Laura and Regina began talking, they found that they had much in common. They had the same Christian beliefs, and both had battled infertility.
Bash, who also became a mother through adoption, was amazed to see the friendship being forged between two sets of families that in some cases end up fighting each other in court. When the Strableys traveled to Ohio for visits with Mia, the Yutzys hosted them in their home so they could have extra time to bond. When the Yutzys traveled to the East Coast for vacation, they detoured through North Carolina so that Mia could spend time with Kevin and Laura.
“Their cooperation was all their own kindness,” Bash said. “There was no court order in place at that point and time. Everything they did, that was all on their own. They chose to do that. They could have sabotaged that connection, but they’re wonderful people.”
Just before Mia turned 1, the court granted custody to Kevin and Laura, but the two families stayed in touch. Kevin and Laura took Mia to visit the Yutzys whenever they traveled to Ohio to visit Laura’s family, and the Yutzys brought their boys to North Carolina to visit Mia and the Strableys during spring break.
When Mia was adopted on Nov. 19 of this year, the Yutzys were named as her godparents. Raphael, a worship pastor, performed a baby dedication at his church for the new family.
“Our bond with them and our commitment to one another as families, in my opinion, is something that God has done,” Laura said. “God has done a beautiful thing.”
While the circumstances are different, both the Strableys and the Yutzys know what it is to grieve over a child. Adoption never comes without loss.
“We have the ashes of yesterday,” Laura said. “Many of us have experienced devastation on multiple levels and situations that we feel like became an ash heap in our lives. (But) the story of Mia and her being gifted to me as a woman who could not have children and to my husband who lost a son who he dearly loved to a drug overdose just shows how God works to bring beauty truly from ashes.
“When I look back, I would not trade one painful step of this journey for Mia. I would not trade one single step,” she said. “She was worth it.”
Information from: The Daily Reflector, http://www.reflector.com